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XYZ hires .top guy as first China employee

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2016, Domain Registries

XYZ.com has hired its first Beijing-based employee, as part of its ongoing plan to formally enter the Chinese market.

The company said yesterday that it has appointed Mason Zhang, until recently chief marketing office at .top gTLD registry Jiangsu Bangning Science & Technology Co, as its new director of business development for China.

It’s part of XYZ’s seemingly interminable entry to the Chinese market, which is over a year old.

While the majority of .xyz’s registrations have been into China, the registry (along with pretty much every other Western registry) still does not have the necessary government permissions so that its customers can start using their names.

It kicked off a process to get ICANN approval for its Chinese gateway, operated by ZDNS, a year ago, and set up the mandatory Wholly Owned Foreign Enterprise in January.

The company said in a blog post that it expects to get its Chinese accreditation “very soon”.

Zhang’s former employer, .top, is second only to .xyz in terms of new gTLD registration volume, also due to Chinese sales. It has about 3.7 million names in its zone file, compared to .xyz’s 6.1 million.

Obama formally hands internet over to UN

Kevin Murphy, October 2, 2016, Gossip

US President Barack Obama today formally signed over control of the internet to the United Nations.

At a ceremony in Washington DC this morning, Obama officially granted the UN, which is controlled by China, Russia and Iran, the ability to censor any web site that does not conform to strict standards of speech.

UN Secretary-General Banksey Moon, who is a foreigner, said that the first order of business under the new regime is to permanently delete the following web sites:

breitbart.com
infowars.com
rushlimbaugh.com
foxnews.com
heritage.org
nra.org
tedcruz.org

A longer list, banning a further 8,102,671 domains, will be published later this week, Moon said.

In addition to the web site deletions, the following new rules have come into immediate international effect:

  • all new web sites will be subject to monthly reviews by the Grand Mufti of Oman for compliance with Sharia law.
  • a proposal to force migration of all .com web sites to .ke will be considered by a panel comprised entirely of coastal liberal elites, many of whom may be lesbians.
  • registered Republicans only get 139 characters on Twitter.
  • pornographic content will be subject to Japanese-style genital pixelation, which nobody likes.
  • the emoji of the hanged black man has been banned.
  • all browsers will have their home pages hard-coded to hillaryclinton.com, with no opt-out.
  • everyone has to have the new U2 album on their phones.
  • all YouTube cat videos will be preceded by a three-minute infomercial from PETA.
  • “They” are coming to take away your guns.

Members of the Grand Unified Jewish Conspiracy can request an exemption from any of the new rules by showing the appropriate credentials at time of registration.

The new regime was warmly welcomed by all those still legally permitted to express an opinion.

“Today is a great day for freedom,” Senator Bernie Sanders, the new UN Special Envoy for Thought Compliance, said at a press conference.

“No longer will right-thinking internet users run the risk of coming across dangerous ideas as they go about their daily business online,” he said.

* * *

For avoidance of doubt: this article is satire. None of this stuff is going to happen. I’m merely gently trolling some of the coverage the IANA transition has received in certain media outlets and on the fringes of Twitter over the last several weeks.

ICANN handover in jeopardy as Texas leads lawsuit against US government

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2016, Domain Policy

The state attorneys general of Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Oklahoma have sued the US Federal government to stop tomorrow’s planned IANA transition.

The 11th-hour suit seeks a court declaration that the transition would be unconstitutional and a temporary restraining order forcing the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to continue its oversight role.

It’s rooted in the conspiracy theories championed by the likes of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who holds that allowing the NTIA to stop authorizing DNS root modifications is akin to handing broad internet censorship powers to Russia, China and Iran.

“Trusting authoritarian regimes to ensure the continued freedom of the internet is lunacy,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a press release, losing about a thousand credibility points.

“The president does not have the authority to simply give away America’s pioneering role in ensuring that the internet remains a place where free expression can flourish,” he said.

The AGs reckon the remaining root zone partners, ICANN and Verisign, which are not bound by the First Amendment, could crack down on free speech.

The complaint states:

NTIA intends to delegate its approval authority over changes to the root zone file to ICANN and Verisign, and give these companies unbridled discretion to make changes to that file, with no substantive constraints on their decisions to grant or deny requests to alter the file that effectively enable or prohibit speech on the Internet.

Without the federal government approval authority, ICANN and Verisign have complete discretion to engage in this type of discrimination, and because these entities are private, citizens and States will not be able to use the democratic process

Citing the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the AGs claim that the government does not have the authority to legally remove itself from oversight of the DNS root zone.

The DNS root is US property that cannot be disposed of without an act of Congress, the complaint alleges:

The Authoritative Root Zone File, the Internet Domain Name System as a whole, the exclusive right to approve changes to the root zone file, and the contracts NTIA administers in exercising control over them are property of the United States

The US Government Accountability Office told Cruz earlier this month that it was “doubtful” that it the transition requires the disposal of any US government property, in this report (pdf).

The AGs also reckon that if the US is no longer involved in root zone management, ICANN could delete .mil and .gov or transfer them to third parties.

The IANA contract between ICANN and NTIA is due to expire tomorrow night, ushering in a new era in which the global internet community becomes the back-stop preventing ICANN abusing its powers for Evil.

Cruz has been fighting against the transition for reasons best known to himself for months.

Most recently, he led an attempt to have a block on the transition included in a US federal funding bill, which wound up being passed yesterday with no such clause attached.

The four-state AG complaint can be read here (pdf).

Chinese investor pumps $7 million into M+M as .vip pushes firm into profit

Kevin Murphy, September 20, 2016, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines made a profit, kinda, in the first half of the year, due to the popularity of .vip in China.

The company today announced a loss of $1.9 million for the six months to June 30, compared to a $1.6 million loss in the comparable 2015 period, on revenue that was up 115% at $7.4 million.

But factoring out discontinued operations — M+M started to close its registrar and registry back-end businesses during the half — it actually managed to sneak a profit of $56,000.

Its revenue was also unaffected by one-time gains from gTLD auction losses, something which had pumped up its top line regularly for the last few years.

Chairman Guy Elliot said in a statement to the markets that M+M “has successfully been navigated out of troubled waters”.

The turnaround is due in no small part to the success of .vip, which racked up over 400,000 registrations in its first month (back in May), the large majority of which were sold to Chinese investors.

The company said that $5.5 million of the $8 million in H1 billings were made in the first 21 days of .vip’s availability.

Having started 2016 with no sales in Asia whatsoever, it expects 45% of its revenue to come from China by the end of the year.

As a direct consequence of .vip’s sales, M+M has received a £5.5 million ($7.2 million) investment from Goldstream Capital Master Fund I, a Cayman Islands shell company owned by Chinese private equity firm Hony Capital.

Hony, which manages $10 billion in assets, is perhaps best known for owning the pizza restaurant chain Pizza Express, which it acquired for $1.54 billion in 2014.

According to its web site, Hony’s own investors include three large Chinese state-owned investment vehicles.

The investment deal includes clauses preventing Hony from trying to get a director on M+M’s board and/or launching a hostile takeover bid.

It will own 7.17% of M+M after buying 50 million shares at £0.13 each, assuming M+M’s simultaneously announced £13 million ($17 million) share buyback is fully subscribed.

M+M opened a subsidiary in China (a Wholly-Owned Foreign Enterprise) during the half, in order to better serve the Chinese market and comply with Chinese government regulations.

It simultaneously laid off 44% of its staff in the US — engineers no longer needed due to the shift into an almost entirely marketing-focused business — and expects to end the year with only 13 employees there.

US claims option to delay IANA transition as Cruz launches free speech doomsday clock

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2016, Domain Policy

The US government has told ICANN that it may extend the current IANA functions contract for a year, should something unexpected happen this month.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration wrote to ICANN (pdf) yesterday, to provide “preliminary notice” that it could extent the contract until September 30, 2017, if a “significant impediment” should occur before October 1, 2016.

It appears to be a formality. NTIA said:

the department intends to allow the IANA functions contract to expire as of October 1, 2016, barring any significant impediment. This notice preserves the Government’s rights under the contract during this interim period should there be a change in circumstance.

Under the contract, NTIA is allowed to extend the term for another year in the last 15 days of the current term, but it has to give 30 days notice to ICANN if it wants to do so.

NTIA assistant secretary Larry Strickling told ICANN (pdf) a couple weeks ago that it plans to allow the IANA contract to expire — thereby removing NTIA’s piddling influence in root zone management — October 1.

But the move is facing continued criticism from increasingly unhinged elements of the American political right, who have got it into their heads that the transition means Russia and China will be able to take over ICANN and crush free speech online.

The campaign has been spearheaded by Senator Ted Cruz and whoever pulls the strings of Wall Street Journal columnist L Gordon Crovitz, and has roped in a multitude of hard-right think-tanks.

The latest publicity push for the campaign saw Cruz yesterday launch a countdown clock on its Senate web page.

Countdown

Cruz’s site states:

If that proposal goes through, countries like Russia, China, and Iran could be able to censor speech on the Internet, including here in the U.S. by blocking access to sites they don’t like.

None of that is true, needless to say.

But the anti-transition sentiment is strong enough that it’s not impossible that there will be a “significant impediment” to the transition before October 1 — a legal injunction against the Federal government, perhaps — and the extension will enable ICANN to run IANA under the current regime for another year.

Confused by new gTLDs? Allow this Nominet infographic to make your brain explode

Kevin Murphy, August 23, 2016, Domain Registries

There are over 1,000 new gTLDs out there right now, and figuring out what’s going on in the marketplace can be difficult.

So what better way to reduce confusion than to plot the 250 most populous TLDs into an infographic that vaguely resembles the iconic London Underground route map?

There must be thousands of better ways.

Regardless, the Tube map idea is the one Nominet decided to run with, and it released this beauty today.

Tube map

While the strings have been roughly organized by categories, there doesn’t seem to be much logic to the layout otherwise.

If one were to overlap the map on a map of London, there doesn’t appear to be much relationship between the string and the characteristics of the corresponding neighborhood.

DI World International Global Headquarters would be sandwiched between .lawyer and .marketing, or thereabouts, just to the north of Jack the Ripper’s stalking ground of .miami.

There is a Citizens Advice Bureau across the street, but I’m not sure that makes this area a hotbed of legal activity.

Market-leading .xyz would be up in Walthamstow somewhere, quite off the beaten track, .tokyo would be close to Chinatown, and .city is nowhere near the City.

I’m probably reading it wrong.

Anyway, the full map can be puzzled over in PDF format here, and you can read Nominet CEO Russell Haworth’s accompanying blog post here.

M+M billings quadruple on China .vip surge

Minds + Machines this morning said that its billings increased to $8.05 million in the first half of 2016.

That’s a 300% increase on the comparable year-ago period, the company said in a preliminary statement to the markets.

It added that its domains under management grew from 217,200 at the end of June 2015 to 728,940 a year later.

While the statement did not elaborate on the reasons behind the growth, the recently launched .vip gTLD seems to be the main factor.

It went to general availability a little over two months ago and quickly topped 400,000 registrations.

Just a few weeks before the end of the reporting period, M+M said its billings and orders for .vip alone had already hit $5.5 million.

That’s due to interest from Chinese domain investors, who were courted by M+M during a conference in Beijing.

M+M will report its full interims on September 20.

Cruz’s ICANN paranoia is now official Republican policy

Kevin Murphy, July 20, 2016, Domain Policy

US Republicans have endorsed hitherto fringe views on the IANA transition as official party policy.

Yesterday delegates at the Republican National Convention approved the party’s 2016 Platform of the party, which “declares the Party’s principles and policies”.

Internet policy takes up just half a page of the 66-page document, but it’s half a page straight out of the paranoid mind of former presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz.

It talks of the transition of the US government from its involvement in DNS root zone management (what the GOP calls “web names”) as an “abandonment” of internet freedoms to Russia, China and Iran, which are ready to “devour” them.

Here’s the relevant passage in (almost) full.

Protecting Internet Freedom

The survival of the internet as we know it is at risk. Its gravest peril originates in the White House, the current occupant of which has launched a campaign, both at home and internationally, to subjugate it to agents of government. The President… has unilaterally announced America’s abandonment of the international internet by surrendering U.S. control of the root zone of web names [sic] and addresses. He threw the internet to the wolves, and they — Russia, China, Iran, and others — are ready to devour it.

We salute the Congressional Republicans who have legislatively impeded his plans to turn over the Information Freedom Highway to regulators and tyrants. That fight must continue, for its outcome is in doubt. We will consistently support internet policies that allow people and private enterprise to thrive, without providing new and expanded government powers to tax and regulate so that the internet does not become the vehicle for a dramatic expansion of government power.

The internet’s independence is its power. It has unleashed innovation, enabled growth, and inspired freedom more rapidly and extensively than any other technological advance in human history. We will therefore resist any effort to shift control toward governance by international or other intergovernmental organizations. We will ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach. The only way to safeguard or improve these systems is through the private sector. The internet’s free market needs to be free and open to all ideas and competition without the government or service providers picking winners and losers.

Previously, such views had been expressed by just a handful of elected Republicans, notably Cruz, who has introduced a bill to block the IANA transition until Congress passes law specifically allowing it.

The irony in the latest GOP statement is that the transition is actually a transfer of power away from governments (specifically, the US government) into the private sector.

The current plan for a post-US ICANN, which was put together over two years by hundreds of participants mostly from the private sector, would see Governmental Advisory Committee advice carry less weight unless it receives full consensus.

In other words, if Iran, China and Russia want to destroy freedom of speech, they’ll have to persuade over 150 other governments to their cause.

Should that ever happen, a new multi-stakeholder (and in this example, government free) “Empowered Community” would have the power to put a stop to it.

The goal is to have the transition completed shortly after the current IANA contract between ICANN and the US Department of Commerce expires at the end of September.

That’s before the US presidential elections, of course, which take place in November.

After long battle, first Bulgarian IDN domain goes live

Bulgarians finally have the ability to register domain names in their native Cyrillic script, after years of fighting with ICANN.

The domain Имена.бг, which translates as “names.bg” went live on the internet this week, according to local reports.

Bulgaria was one of the first countries to ask for a internationalized domain name version of its ccTLD, almost seven years ago, but it was rejected by ICANN in 2010.

The requested .бг was found too similar to Brazil’s existing Latin-script ccTLD .br. Evaluators thought the risk of phishing and other types of attacks was too high.

The requested string didn’t change, but ICANN processes were adapted to allow appeals and a new method for establishing similarity was established.

On appeal, .бг was determined to be less prone to confusion with .br than existing pairs of Latin ccTLDs are with each other, ergo should be approved.

Имена.бг does not yet directly resolve (for me at least) from the Google Chrome address bar. It’s treated as a web search instead. But clicking on links to it does work.

The new ccTLD, which is .xn--90ae in the DNS, was delegated last week.

The registry is Imena.bg (which also means “names.bg”), based in Sofia and partially owned by Register.bg, the .bg registry.

Despite the long battle, the success of .бг is by no means assured. IDNs have a patchy record worldwide.

It’s true that Russians went nuts for their .рф (.rf for Russian Federation) ccTLD during its scandal-rocked launch in 2010, but Arabic IDNs have had hardly any interest and the current boom in China seems to be largely concentrated on Latin-script TLDs.

.бг is expected to open for general registration in the fourth quarter.

I guess we’ll have to wait until at least next year to discover whether the concerns about confusion with .br were well-founded.

Chinese gTLD cranks up renewal prices from $18 to $100

Chinese new gTLD registry Beijing RITT-Net has said it intends to more than quintuple its registration and renewal prices.

From January 1, 2017, prices for .手机 will go up from $18 a year to $100 a year, the company said in a notice to ICANN late last month.

.手机 (.xn--kput3i) is a Chinese internationalized domain name meaning “.cell” or “.cellphone”.

The registry told ICANN:

it is our sincere hope to adjust the initial registration and renewal fees from 18 dollars to 100 dollars with the aim to keep up with the status quo of China’s domain name market and to provide registrants with better services. We wish the new price will be effective from Jan 1st, 2017.

I believe this is the biggest renewal price hike for a new gTLD registry to date.

Around 25,000 existing registrations appear to be affected, but very few registrars will have to deal with the ramifications.

According to registry reports, over 99% of its registrations were made via Beijing Innovative Linkage Technology, which does business at dns.com.cn.